Philadelphia, PA: Welcome to the city of brotherly love, home of the USA Eagles versus the AIG New Zealand Maori All Blacks. And speaking of love, the USA Rugby community has been showing lots of love. Stadium Soldout, Referee and Coaching Seminars with full registration, and there will be hotels and coach buses filled with fans coming into the city for the big match. Outside of maybe finding a way to have the Womens Premier League Final be a curtain raiser, there is nothing to complain about. There were doubts about a US international match in the Northeast at the tail end of the year but hats off to USA Rugby for pulling it off. Now let’s get to the match preview.
We will look at the individual rosters provide our thoughts then our predictions for the game. Here are the line-ups:
1 Nick Wallace (Olympic)
2 Phil Thiel (Life)
3 Shawn Pittman (OPSB)
4 Scott LaValla (Stade Francais)
5 Tai Tuisamoa (OMBAC)*
6 Todd Clever (capt.) (NTT Shining Arcs)
7 Peter Dahl (Belmont Shore)
8 Cameron Dolan (Life)
9 Mike Petri (NYAC)
10 Toby L’Estrange (NYAC)
11 Tim Maupin (Golden Gate)*
12 Andrew Suniula (Wasps)
13 Seamus Kelly (UCal Golden Bears)
14 Luke Hume (Unattached)
15 Adam Siddall (Old Blue)
16 Zach Fenoglio (Glendale)
17 Titi Lamositele (Saracens)
18 Olive Kilifi (OPSB)*
19 Graham Harriman (Metropolis)
20 Kyle Sumsion (Brigham Young)*
21 Shaun Davies (unattached)
22 Zach Pangelinan (OMBAC)
23 Folau Niua (Golden Gate)
*1st USA Cap
What you first notice is that there are 2 debutants in the starting line-up and 2 on the bench. Part of that is Head Coach Mike Tolkin blooding younger player the other is availability which we covered in our tour preview. The return of the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) frontrow sees Shawn Pittman line up at tight head as he Pittman looks to get another international contract and put pressure on Eric Fry before he joins for the Euro leg. This unit looked good in the ARC and is essentially the first choice unit. The only slight surprise is Olive Kilifi on the bench but he is a late replacement for the injured Blake Burdette. The locking tandem shows Tolkin preference for athletic locks, injury to his first choice locks has not stopped him from his goal to play an up-tempo game so moving flanker LaValla into Lock (which he has done for his club) and the impressive Tuisamoa. Tuisamoa who like LaValla, Samu Manoa and the injured Lou Stanfill is a second/back row utility guy made a name for himself at the ARC. He showed he could be that hard edge tight lock that every tier 1 nation has. The backrow features Todd Clever moved back to the flank but at blindside with Pete Dahl at open, which shows Tolkin anticipating an open game. At 8 is Cam Dolan who should be able to win a pro contract after this tour. His performance was the highlight of the ARC. Genuine lock Harriman is on the bench as well as college lock, likely Men’s club flanker Sumsion. It will be interesting how they are deployed.
The backs the tried and tested NYAC duo of Petri and “L’Sigh” L’Strange. The amount heat Tolkin is under for backing these two guys is immense. These two have to find form and reward Tolkin with a quality performance. The midfield combo of Suniula and Kelly was always on the cards. Kelly is another that needs to justify Tolkin’s faith in him. The back 3 sees Tolkin go with Siddall, the only experienced fullback available, with ARC stud finisher Maupin and the returning from injury Luke Hume. Clearly it is about scoring and finishing in this game as far as the coaching staff is concerned. On the bench is the future sh of the USA, Shaun Davies, with the only real gaming changing back the US have in Nuia who can cover the inside backs positions (FH/IC/OC) and Pangelian who can cover the back 3 and kick at goal.
Maori (tribe/ITM Cup team)
1.Kane Hames Ngai Tuhoe/Ngati Porou Bay of Plenty
2.Ash Dixon Ngati Tahinga Hawke’s Bay
3.Ben Afeaki Ngati Awa North Harbour
4.Jarrad Hoeata Ngati Kahungunu / Ngai Tuhoe Taranaki
5.Joe Wheeler Ngai Tahu Tasman
6.Shane Christie Te Atihaunui A Paparangi Tasman
7.Luke Braid Ngati Tumutumu Auckland
8.Blade Thomson* Ngapuhi Taranaki
9.Jamison Gibson-Park Ngati Porou/Ngai Tai Taranaki
10.Ihaia West Ngati Kahungunu /Ngati Porou Hawke’s Bay
11.Matt Proctor Ngai te Rangi/Ngapuhi Wellington
12.Tim Bateman (capt) Ngai Tahu Wellington
13.Charlie Ngatai Ngati Porou/Te Whanau-a-Apanui Wellington
14.Kurt Baker Ngapuhi Taranaki
15.Robbie Robinson Ngati Tuwharetoa/ Ngati Tahinga Southland
16.Joe Royal Te Arawa / Ngati Whatua I Orakei /Ngapuhi Bay of Plenty *
17.Chris Eves Tainui Manawatu
18.Nick Barrett Ngati Kahungunu Southland
19.Luke Katene* Ngati Toa Canterbury
20.Elliot Dixon Ngapuhi Southland
21.Chris Smylie Ngati Mutunga Taranaki
22.Jackson Willison Ngati Mahuta Waikato
23.Zac Guildford Ngati Kahunganu/Ngai Tahu Hawke’s Bay
*1st NZM Cap
The front row is as tier 1 test ready as you will face. Hoeata is an undersized but physical lock, while Wheeler tends to play looser. The backrow are handy and the Eagles must be ready at the breakdown because Super Rugby 15 Blues Captain Luke Braid will create havoc on defense and run great support on offense, the young Blade Thomsosn will be looking to make a statement. The bringing in of Ihaia West to 10 suggests that Head Coach Colin Cooper is looking to play a more expensive game as the conservative Tim Bateman has been shifted to the IC. The backline looks especially dangerous with Ngatai, former 7s star Baker and Super Rugby championship winner Robbie Robinson all in fine form. The Bench forwards are solid but not sure the impact they will have but the bench backs of the experienced Smylie, Willison and Gulidford know how to open up a close game or put it our of reach so the eagles must stay alert for the full 80 minutes.
The Maori are going to win this. the question is how easily. The struggled against Canada but that might have been rust. Our it could the fact that they Maori side for all its winning is often thrown together with players very unfamiliar with each other. If the USA can match the 40-15 scoreline that the Maori beat Canada by, or keep it even closer than that is a victory.
That’s it for now… feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.